According to Selwyn Ryan in the Trinidad Express:
“Poverty is entrenched in Laventille. This has been so for much of its existence as a community. The causes of poverty in Laventille are many and arise out of the circumstances of its settlement. Laventille, was the destination for persons taking refuge or sanctuary from the plantation. Among the refugees were slaves who abandoned the plantation after emancipation. There were however other blacks who were themselves small planters, black slave owners, artisans and others who provided services for persons who lived in Port of Spain and its environs. Laventille also provided bedroom and living space for the flotsam and the jetsam coming from Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean in search of work.
Laventille also attracted migrants and investors, both black and white, who came with their slaves from the French-speaking Caribbean under the terms of the 18th century Cedula of Population which opened up the island to settlement by white and black planters. In sum, the people of Laventille or Belmont which also attracted migrants from diverse places, were not all poor or black with a slave past. Some were poor and some were entrepreneurial success stories.
Over time, many of the successful persons and businesses fled Laventille to make room for others. In time, the character of Laventille changed to one that was almost uniformly part of the wider national underclass.
While there are several areas in Laventille that are not over depressed, our study indicates that the Laventille area and its “diaspora” in Beetham Gardens and elsewhere along the East-West Corridor are peopled mainly by dysfunctional one parent (mostly female-headed) families, houses that are poorly appointed and which are poorly provisioned with basic utilities and toilet facilities. In terms of human capital, the community is possessed of a considerable number of delinquent and illiterate youth with learning disabilities, incomplete schooling, home environments that are characterised by violence, spousal abuse widespread use of psychotropic drugs, high proportion of ex-prison inmates, high mortality rates. The community is also deficient in terms of social capital and financial capital.
The State and NGOs have over the past 50 years transferred substantial material, resources to Laventille to alleviate the prevailing poverty and to pacify the community whose social “warmongering” threatened the social peace of the heartland of the capital city. Political patronage was also prominent among many reasons for the transfers…
Questions have been asked as to whether it is possible to eradicate or even alleviate poverty in Laventille, and, if so, how can it be done?
The “culture of poverty” concept can have either radical or conservative policy implications. Some argue that poverty generates a distinctive way of life, a folkway, and that it requires radical programmes which target the psychological deficits of the people who are born into such ways of life. There was however another view, viz., that poverty is “ineradicable” and permanent because the cultural deficits of the poor are not easily compensated for, and that the deficits persist because the poor are part of a sub-culture that is not easily reached by the mechanisms and resources available to the contemporary welfare state. “Wars of poverty”, like “wars on drugs” are thus doomed to fail. Blame is thus placed on the poor. To quote Seligman, “those traits that accompany the subculture of poverty … will pass from generation to generation to create unseen chains that constitute a social syndrome”.
Some analysts say that people are poor because they have defective character traits while others say that they are poor because they have no income-earning opportunities. Clearly these are generalisations. Many people who are poor manage to emerge from poverty and do extremely well in all walks of life. The Caribbean is a living testament to this fact.
Governments of Trinidad and Tobago have tried in varying ways to address the problem of poverty and dispossession and all that flows there from. The various programmes have not helped meaningfully to alleviate poverty which remains stubbornly entrenched.
Our hypothesis is that while individually some of the programmes had or still have some merit, delivery has been poor and ineffective.
There is in fact little or no coordination among the various State agencies and NGOs. This challenge to the programmes resulted because poverty issues were not addressed by an integrated and multi-sector strategy within the overall macro-economic framework. The Government, its agencies and NGOs must accept that ad hoc social safety nets need to be completed by safety ladders that assist the poor to climb out of their hopeless position to sustainable livelihoods. That concept itself implies a greater mix of community-based strategies to complement the over-reliance or the traditional approach of attempting to continuously exploit the economy in order to create individual-employment opportunities.
The general approach of all parties has been to throw money at the problem. The aim has been to satisfy the basic physiological needs of the members of the community leaving their ego needs unfilled…It is often argued that the practice of providing welfare to the poor leads to the creation of an attitude of dependency, and that the beneficiaries of such programmes are not motivated to help themselves.
They came to assume that as citizens, State welfare is not only a human right, but one that is a historical legacy and that the State is responsible for meeting their basic physiological and material needs. They are therefore not motivated to be entrepreneurial…
Laventille however needs to have both its physiological and ego needs fulfilled…. The key question to be answered by policy is whether Laventille is fixable, what it would take to fix it, and how long the exercise would take, taking note of the circumstances of the human, social and fiscal capital that is available locally, and the state of the regional and world economy. Trinidad and Laventille are in a race to determine who gets in the blocks first. Would the gangs capture it first and become entrenched, putting the whole society at risk, or would the State take the battle to the gangs and triumph over them in the urban warfare that they have declared?”